In yesterday’s blog I wrote about Hermann Hesse’s Romantic Vision of a brotherhood with the souls of all epochs, nations, and languages. There are, of course, others who have had such dreams of understanding, respect, cooperation and peace among all Peoples. Yesterday I had the pleasure of giving a “first reading” Hans Kung‘s book “What I Believe” (2009). I will go back a second time to read it more carefully. Having read several of his other books, including “On Being a Christian” (1974), Does God Exist: An Answer for Today (1976; 1980), Christianity and the World Religions (1984), and most recently The Beginning of All Things: Science and Religion (2007), I was interested to see how Hans Kung might summarize and distill a lifetime of reflection about many of life’s biggest questions. I was not disappointed. Kung’s vast knowledge and astute erudition reaches out in many directions to encompass philosophy, psychology, religion, spirituality, music, art, science, technology, ethics, economics, ecology and culture.
Kung is that rare thing in any age, a “Catholic Intellectual” whose comprehension of the great ideas and whose deep respect for people of many traditions makes him a living exemplar of what Hermann Hesse describes, except that Kung has remained within his own Catholic tradition as a vigorous and outspoken critic. In the meantime He has gone about his business of reaching to build bridge of understanding, respect, dialogue and cooperation between some of the world’s most influential and divided camps. Within the Christian communion kung has facilitated dialogue between Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants. Within the Abrahamic faiths he has facilitated dialogue between Christians, Jews and Muslims. Within the major faith traditions, he has facilitated dialogue between the Abrahamic faith, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism, among others.
And beyond interfaith dialogue, Kung has facilitated dialogue between religious and secular worldviews, and between the major domains of liberal knowledge, including the humanities, arts and sciences. While others have been busy putting up walls, Kung has been busy taking them down and building bridges of mutual understanding and respect.
Kung offers his reasons for “fundamental trust” in life and for belief in “God” as “the infinite dimension of reality.” Like Karl Barth before him, Hans Kung believes in the superlative Genius of Mozart (certainly more than he believes in the centralized authority of the Pope). He believes that religious faith, philosophical reflection, scientific knowledge and artistic creations can find a way toward complementary value and mutual respect. Kung believes in religion but not superstitious religiosity; in reason but not hyper-rationalism; in science but not reductive scientism; and in art but not effete aestheticism.
On the practical level Hans Kung believes in setting forth a “universal ethic” that respects the freedom, dignity, rights and responsibilities of all peoples of the earth and “all our relations” with the natural world.
What else? Well, Kung believes in the integration of Eros and Agape. He believes in the power of love, and of love as the fulfillment of the global ethic. He believes in peace through renouncing exclusive rights, including the right to dominate and oppress others. He believes in using power in favor of others. He believes in being moderate in consumption. He believes in upbringing in mutual respect. He believes in fairness in sports. He believes in health but not fixation on health. He believes in both the art of living and the art of dying. In a realy sense, Hans Kung is larger than any single tradition, even though he happens to fully deeply inhabit the Roman Catholic tradition. Like Hermann Hesse, Hans Kung is “a man for the ages.”